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House of Lords

Monday, 12th November 2001.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Derby.

Lord Wolfson of Sunningdale—Took the oath.

Personal Statement: The Lord Falconer of Thoroton

The Minister of State, Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): My Lords, I should like to take this first opportunity to put the record straight. In an oral Answer to a supplementary Question on 8th November I said that NMEC is not insolvent; that at all stages it traded entirely solvently and paid all its creditors. In fact, there was a period, as PricewaterhouseCoopers advised the company in the summer of 2000, when there was a need for a further Millennium Commission grant. Until the Millennium Commission confirmed the grant, there was a technical insolvency. Because the Millennium Commission made the further grant available on 5th September 2000, the insolvency never crystallised and all creditors have been paid.

The Answer I gave on Thursday was therefore unintentionally incorrect because it did not refer to that period. I apologise for the mistake, which is entirely my responsibility.

Gulf War Veterans: Health Study

2.37 p. m.

Lord Morris of Manchester asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they expect to publish the findings of the medical study of the health effects of the multiple immunisation programme adopted by the Ministry of Defence to protect servicemen and women deployed in the Gulf War.

Lord Grocott: My Lords, the Ministry of Defence Interactions Research programme is studying whether the combination of vaccines used to protect UK personnel during the Gulf conflict can give rise to adverse health effects. As my noble friend Lady Symons announced in this House on 15th January, the programme is due to complete in 2003. The findings will be published in scientific literature as soon as possible thereafter.

Lord Morris of Manchester: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend who understands, I know, the deep disquiet of Gulf veterans that they will not now know until the year after next, 12 years on, whether it was safe in 1991 to give them up to 14 inoculations in quick succession. Is the medical study also considering the

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effects of issuing NAPS tablets; exposure to organophosphates, massive oil-smoke pollution and other toxic substances; and the constant stress imposed by Iraq's deployment of chemical and biological weapons? Without at least an interim report, how can any lessons learned from the study be fully applied in protecting our troops now on active service in Afghanistan and others, possibly including reservists, who may have to join them?

Lord Grocott: My Lords, I understand the importance of my noble friend's Question, and his diligence and tireless energy on this subject in association with the Royal British Legion over a considerable period of time. He asked specifically about NAPS, the nerve agent pre-treatment sets. Yes, the interaction study includes work on whether the combination of NAPS and vaccines used to protect UK personnel during the Gulf conflict can give rise to adverse health effects.

My noble friend asked about lessons to be learned from the Gulf conflict in relation to the present conflict. We have taken steps to ensure that service personnel are kept up to date with routine vaccinations. Since the Gulf War, we have made improvements in the areas of medical record-keeping and in keeping up to date with the medical precautions which will need to be taken for those areas of the world where it is judged that our forces are likely to operate.

I should stress—I am sure your Lordships would expect me to do so—that the paramount concern of everyone involved in this research and consideration is to ensure that the best possible protection and support are given to those who risk their lives in defence of our freedom. Finally, my noble friend talked about the possibility of interim findings. As he rightly says, 2003 is longer than anyone would have wished to wait for the results. Perhaps I may refer him to the results published earlier this year in the Journal of Applied Toxicology. Other interim findings will be made public as and when they are known.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, will the Government, at the same time, be publishing their own views and comments, both on this study and on future programmes of this kind where our forces are serving abroad in unfamiliar conditions?

Lord Grocott: My Lords, the medical research is constantly ongoing and so far has been funded by the Ministry of Defence to the tune of £4.7 million. A further £1.5 million is anticipated. As has been repeatedly stated but needs to be restated, the basis of that research has been conducted with a view to ensuring the widest possible openness, frankness and dissemination of any results as and when they are discovered. As I am sure everyone will agree, it is important to ensure that the information is accurate. That is why the research has perhaps sometimes taken somewhat longer than we would have wished.

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, I am sure that the noble Lord would agree that every one of us in this

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House, and probably in the country, accepts that it is the duty and intention of the Government to protect our forces when they go into a battlefield. However, does he also accept that when things apparently go wrong—they have very apparently gone wrong in this case—we should do something about it? I do not remember who it was who said that science is merely the assembling of facts which are common sense. Would it not be a good idea to apply common sense now and give the Gulf veterans the treatment they deserve? In other words, they should be recognised as being sick due to their service in the Gulf and should receive treatment accordingly?

Lord Grocott: My Lords, I know that the noble Countess has been heavily involved in the issue and I am sure she will acknowledge that it is extremely complex, as is the evidence in respect of a number of issues that have been raised. We should keep in mind the statement made by the Government in 1997 declaring that three principles will govern all that we do: first, that all Gulf War veterans will have prompt access to medical advice from the Gulf War veterans' medical assessment programme; secondly, that there will be appropriate research into Gulf War veterans' illnesses and the factors which might have a bearing on those; and, thirdly and finally, as I have already said but make no apology for repeating, that the Ministry of Defence will make available to the public any information it possesses which is of potential relevance to the issue.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, how does one deal with an issue in respect of which one cannot have a control group? Presumably no government would dare to immunise only half of their forces, but the only real way of making an assessment would be to keep one group unimmunised. How does any government deal with such a dilemma?

Lord Grocott: My Lords, comparisons have been made between the forces which were deployed in the Gulf and those which were not. A number of studies have been made on that basis. However, nothing I say should detract from a recognition of the complexity of the issue or from the willingness and openness of the Ministry of Defence and the Medical Research Council to consider any future proposals which might present important information that could be the basis for research. We are looking forward as well as back.

Lord Burnham: My Lords, the problem was that at one time the Ministry of Defence ran out of anti-anthrax vaccine. Can the Minister assure the House that the Ministry owns enough vaccine to cover all foreseeable circumstances?

Lord Grocott: My Lords, I know of the noble Lord's long-standing interest in the matter. For obvious reasons, and throughout much of this year and more recently, much concern has been expressed about anthrax. Independent medical advice has confirmed

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that anthrax immunisation offers safe and effective additional protection and it is the duty of the department to ensure that adequate supplies of the vaccine are available.

Statue of Sir Walter Raleigh

2.46 p.m.

Baroness Trumpington asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is the current situation with regard to the statue of Sir Walter Raleigh; and when the statue will be moved to its final destination.

The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Baroness Blackstone): My Lords, the statue has been removed from Raleigh Green in Whitehall for cleaning before it is moved to the grounds of the former Royal Naval College at Greenwich. The site at Greenwich has now been prepared and the statue should be in its new home by the end of the year.

Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, it would probably be churlish of me to say, "And about time, too!", so I shall not say it. Am I right in believing that it was mooted that a statue of a woman should replace that of tiny Sir Walter? Has that idea been abandoned? If not, I can think of several good subjects.

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